Lately, I’ve been thinking about crime and how we respond to it. The actions we take or don’t take to reduce crime and its impact.
Where I live we have witnessed an increase in property crime and motor vehicle theft. It was at its height in January, reduced down during COVID-19 lockdowns but picked up again when restrictions were lifted. Of course,this spike in crime led to the inevitable calls for harsh detention sentences for juvenile offenders and the reintroduction of boot camps to teach them some discipline and respect. I’m still unclear how placing a young person in an environment with more experienced offenders would lead to a reduction in crime. The usual result of this course is a young person even more disconnected from civil society but now with a criminal record and connections with other, more experienced offenders.
Of course there are valuable intervention programs in place to assist with resetting the person’s life and give them a chance at a new start but what else can we do to reduce crime in our neighbourhoods.
There must be another way.
As a society we seem to suffer from a learned inadequacy.
Over the course of many years we’ve been subject to needs assessment with the result that services were provided to address these perceived needs. Issues were addressed on a needs basis. The inevitable result is a complex and fractured service system with providers being able to only help as far as their funding goes and no further. At the same time we ceased from being citizens with control over our own environment and became clients and consumers. We stopped being people who had resources, gifts and strengths that could be used to address our own issues and became dependent on others for assistance.
This is obvious in many situations but incredibly obvious when we are impacted by crime. Here I’m not talking about vigilante action or addressing major violent crime but the largely simple actions we can all take to reduce crime in our area or even eliminate these type of crimes and increase the liveability of our neighbourhood, suburb and town.
But where do we start?
By far the most powerful and readily available tool against crime and anti social behaviour is the local community. Again, let me stress I’m not referring to illegal vigilante actions but the simple action of just being a good neighbour. This is an incredible largely untapped resource.
Many of us don’t even know our neighbours. We keep to ourselves behind our closed front door. We can’t even see our neighbour’s yard over our 2 metre high fences. We are shut off from each other. The problem is that once we become isolated household units it becomes very difficult to reach out to others.
But to lower and prevent crime this is what we need to do. Simply, get to know our neighbours. This is a relationship based process and starts with a simple wave, hello or just knocking on their door. Get to know their name, invite neighbours around for afternoon tea or a street get together or just a picnic for families in the park. Each time we have these positive interactions with our neighbours we start to build up trust between us. We start to know a little bit more about another person, often find common interests or someone who can help with some maintenance tasks or with a project in the neighbourhood.
Each interaction builds this relationship and develops capital between us…social capital. Like any other capital it has transactional value. It grows as we exchange it with one another.
One of the side effects of social capital is a development of group norms and accepted behaviours. These group norms are largely unwritten or unspoken but they guide our behaviour and if there is a transgression of these norms there will be some type of intervention. This might be as simple as a neighbour guiding us in an acceptable behaviour or could escalate further to complaints to Council. But perhaps, the real bonus is that these neighbourhoods are likely to actively report any crimes or potential crimes to the police. This is because next time it could be their property impacted and out of their concern for you.
In the literature these neighbourhoods are more active. People use their front yards, work in their garages, use their parks. The result is a greater level of surveillance resulting in lower crime. The real bonus is a great place to live.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
CPTED is a recognised approach to crime prevention and reduction. Although largely used by urban planners and councils its strategies can readily be used by anyone.
For example, we can all improve the security of our house. Better locks, security screens, CCTV, alarms, lighting. These are simple things that make it harder for someone to access your property and commit a crime while, at the sametime, having low impact on your own enjoyment of your home.
CPTED includes a range of simple actions everyone can take. This can include keeping your yard neat, not leaving toys and tools out, pruning and maintaining shrubs and trees so there are limited hiding places and your house can be observed from the street.
These simple actions are enhanced by us being a little more thoughtful in our own security such as storing handbags, wallets, keys and credit cards out of sight even when we are at home. This reduces the likelihood of someone breaking in, finding car keys on the bench and stealing your car.
These are not hard actions and have little impact on our amenity at home but will again make it harder for someone to commit a crime.
A combination of building local community and some simple CPTED actions can reduce or even eliminate crime in our neighbourhood. It takes a little effort and puts the power back in our hands to reduce crime. However, always remember to be a good citizen and report anything unusual or a potential crime to the police. Don’t take unnecessary risks and be a great neighbour.